Don’t Let the Blues Get You Down: What You Need to Know about “Baby Blues” & Postpartum Depression
New mothers often recount feeling let down after the emotionally charged experience of birth. It’s a normal part of the birth process …
In fact, as many as 8 out of 10 new mothers experience the postpartum blues – commonly called “the baby blues.” The baby blues involve mood swings resulting from high hormonal fluctuations that usually occur just prior to, during, and immediately after childbirth.
While the “baby blues” typically include a number of the same symptoms as postpartum depression – crying for no apparent reason, over-sensitivity, impatience, restlessness, anxiety, and possibly some lack of empathy for the baby – they aren’t necessarily a cause for concern, as they are typically milder and only last for the first few weeks of the postpartum period.
The baby blues are simply a normal part of the huge transition to having a new baby and coping with early motherhood and all its stresses – sleep deprivation, hormonal changes and other changing relationships and expectations among them.
What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
It is not uncommon for women to confuse baby blues with postpartum depression, especially given that postpartum depression (PPD) often starts as the baby blues.
While the baby blues isn’t necessarily anything to worry about – in fact, worrying about it can make the problem worse – if, over time, the symptoms don’t get better and eventually disappear, or especially if feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression worsen, it’s time to seek professional help. Unresolved postpartum depression is a serious mental health problem, as are birth-related post-traumatic stress disorder and a severe but rare condition called postpartum psychosis.
So, postpartum depression is much more than just having the blues and feeling emotionally and physically exhausted after giving birth. Postpartum depression is a severe depressive disorder that can have grave consequences for both mother and child.
When a new mother has severe depression, the vital mother-child relationship may become strained. She’s less likely to respond to her child’s needs and several studies have shown that the more depressed a new mother is, the greater the delay in the infant’s development.
A new mother’s attention to her newborn is particularly important immediately following birth because the first year of life is a critical time in cognitive and emotional development. Your child will always benefit from having a mother who is able to be present and empathic to its needs, but this is never more important than it is at the outset of your relationship.
Although the term postpartum depression (PPD) is commonly used to describe the mood changes a mother may have after having a baby, a more accurate term may be perinatal mood disorders. This rephrasing allows for the great variability of symptoms, as symptoms such as anxiety commonly prove just as, if not more, problematic than feelings of depression.
Similarly, the associated mood swings often occur during pregnancy as well as after having a baby. In fact, about one-third of all mothers suffer some symptoms during the last trimester of pregnancy.
So, what should you do if you’re concerned you or someone you know is struggling with a perinatal mood disorder or postpartum depression?
First Steps: Acknowledging The Need For Help & Asking For It
Many new mothers deny that anything is wrong, even if nothing could be further from the truth. This common denial that any problem exists stems from deeply held cultural assumptions about motherhood and how happy a new mother should be, as well as how we all want to feel about and towards our newborn babies. No mother wants to feel depressed about having just given birth, so they often deny that that is, in fact, exactly how they feel.
New mothers often write off feelings of anxiety and depression as being simply due to the stress and sleepless nights they’re experiencing. They may believe that they should be able to handle these situations as all mothers must and, in so doing, they don’t take the time to even discern whether a greater problem exists.
To make matters worse, many new mothers feel embarrassed or ashamed about feelings of inadequacy and their inability to gracefully handle the adjustment to parenting, as if being a good mother is somehow genetically hard-wired and as straightforward as the act of conception.
Well, let me tell you, no new mother is ready right off the bat for the all-day and all-night crying. Feelings of overwhelm, frustration, and even anger are perfectly normal.
Regardless of our feelings of love and responsibility, the urge to want to find the nearest rock, crawl under it, stay there, and have everyone leave us alone are natural. The problem occurs when these feelings aren’t expressed and they grow instead of dissipate.
The longer we keep feelings of this nature bottled up inside the more they intensify, often to the point where we feel as if we should be punished for being such a bad mom.
When we feel embarrassed and ashamed, the natural inclination is to hide these feelings from our family and friends. Many mothers end up suffering in silence and don’t bother looking for help for a problem they’re in denial of having in the first place.
Some mothers become so embarrassed that they don’t leave the house for weeks, unless they absolutely have to go out to get diapers or formula. They feel as if they’re in a fish bowl and EVERYONE is staring at them and knows their secret – that they’re a horrible mom for having these awful thoughts. Of course, staying home and trying to wish the problem away only makes matters worse.
Unfortunately, it often takes the knowledge that another mother experienced the same issues, found help, and successfully overcame her problems, for us to acknowledge, “Wow, that is exactly what I feel! There’s someone who can help me?!?”
Well, let me tell you. What you’re going through is not new and you’re anything but alone. If you’re depressed, anxious, concerned, worried, or scared, so are millions of other women, and the only way to resolve these feelings is to talk about them.
Support from family and friends is critical. You’ll need their help, not only in terms of physical help with your newborn so you can take some time for yourself but also in terms of the emotional and psychological support they can provide if you can be honest with them and yourself.
While the support of family and friends may be enough to get you through the baby blues and first few weeks of your new life as a mom, if the feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear continue or worsen, it’s time to seek the help of a professional counselor or therapist.
Professional counseling and psychotherapy is often effective in treating postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders without the unhealthy physical side effects of many antidepressants. While taking antidepressant medications may help alleviate the symptoms of some perinatal mood disorders, they are more effective when combined with ongoing counseling with a therapist trained in issues surrounding childbirth.
If you have or develop any symptoms of perinatal mood disorders like postpartum depression, it is important to remember that this is not something you brought upon yourself, and it does not reflect a personal weakness or an inability to cope.
By acknowledging these feelings openly, it is possible to hold dear the whole experience and to celebrate the enormous gains of motherhood. It is only when we feel we can’t or shouldn’t express the negative feelings of this experience that trouble looms.
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